After a disappointing Week 8, the Washington Capitals
rebounded with a perfect week in the win-loss record in Week 9.
It was not obtained easily, nor did it come
without a price that, hopefully, will not exact too much of a toll in the days
For the second time this season and first time since Week 4,
the Capitals recorded a perfect week. Not
that it was accompanied by any significant movement in the standings. The Caps finished Week 8 in fourth place in
the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the New York Rangers with three
games in hand, and sixth in the Eastern Conference. At the end of Week 9 they are in fifth place
in the Metropolitan Division, trailing the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh
Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Philadelphia Flyers, although the Caps
have at least two games in hand on all except Columbus (both played 26 games so
far). Not playing against a divisional
opponent hurt the Caps’ chances to advance, but their 2-4-2 record against the
division does not inspire a lot of confidence, either. They did face two Atlantic Division opponents
(Buffalo twice, and Boston), and with the wins in all three games have a record
of 7-1-1 against that division through Week 9.
(season: 2.65 /game; rank: 13th)
Balance and volume.
That was certainly missing in Week 8, when Nicklas Backstrom recorded
the only goal of the week. In Week 9,
eight Caps shared in the 11 goals, and 13 skaters recorded points. Marcus Johansson had three goals and a pair
of assists, one of the goals an overtime game-winner in the first game of the
week, a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
One of his assists came on the overtime game-winning goal scored by
Nicklas Backstrom in the Caps’ 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins in the middle
game of the week.
Evgeny Kuznetsov gave signs that he is coming out of the slump
that he has been in for most of the season.
He had four assists in the three games, posting at least one in each
game of Week 9. It is the first time he
had points in three consecutive games since he had single points (1-2-0) in
Games 3-5 of the season back in October.
There were a couple of noteworthy firsts for the Caps in the
offensive end for the week. John Carlson
scored his first goal of the season in the game to end the week against the
Buffalo Sabres, ending a 26-game streak without a goal to open the season, and Jakub Vrana recorded his first
NHL goal in the 4-1 win over the Sabres to end the week, the goal also being
credited as the game-winner in that contest.
Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.19 /game; rank: 5th)
Minimizing shots has been a hallmark of the Caps’ season
thus far, but they have fallen off a bit in that regard in recent games. Only six times in 23 games over the first
eight weeks did the Caps allow an opponent more than 30 shots. The sixth time was in tbe second and last
game of Week 8. The Caps followed that
up by allowing the Sabres and Bruins 33 and 34 shots, respectively, in the
first two games of the week. That made
it five times in six games that the Caps allowed an opponent more than 30
shots, and they averaged 33 shots
allowed per game in that span.
Washington got things under more control in the game to end the week,
allowing the Sabres only 28 shots in their second meeting of Week 9, in
The Caps had an iffy possession week. While they finished just under 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (48.9 percent), it was a case of two good games (51.9 percent and 55.9 percent in the two games against Buffalo) against a poor game against Boston (41.2 percent).
The price that the Caps paid for a good week in the defensive end was losing defenseman Matt Niskanen to an upper body injury when he was run into the end boards by Boston's Patrice Bergeron late in the first period of the Caps' 4-3 overtime win in the middle game of the week (Bergeron was assessed a penalty on the play). The game he missed against the Sabres to close Week 9 was the first game he missed as a Capital, snapping a streak of 107 games played. Niskanen is officially listed as "day-to-day," but no timetable has been offered for his return.
.937 (season: 2.07 / .927 / 2 SO)
The depth of the Capitals’ goaltending was on full display
in Week 9.
Braden Holtby won both of the
games played to overtime, and Philipp Grubauer wrapped up the week with a solid
win in Buffalo.
The save percentages
were solid across the periods for the week - .962 in the first period, .919 in
the second period, and .935 in the third frame.
Holtby stopped 60 of 64 shots for the week for a .938 save percentage,
while Grubauer turned away 29 of 31 shots against the Sabres to finish at .935.
That kind of consistency, especially in
getting consistent and reliable relief from Grubauer, had been an important
ingredient to the Caps’s success so far this season.
Through nine weeks, Holtby has a save
percentage of .923, and Grubauer is at .940.
The Caps and the Chicago Blackhawks (with Corey Crawford and Scott
Darling) are the only teams in the league with two goalies having played at
least 250 minutes and with save percentages over .920.
Grubauer is eighth in the league among
goalies with at least 150 5-on-5 minutes in save percentage (.944), while Holtby
(.941; numbers from Corsica.hockey
Power Play: 3-for-8 / 37.5 percent (season: 16.7 percent;
Three power play goals for the week ties the season high for
power play goals in a week, and the 37.5 percent success rate is the best
through nine weeks for the Caps. Not
that the Caps were especially efficient in achieving this outcome. They had just nine shots on goal in 11:34 of
total power play time. Six players had
as many as two shots – Marcus Johansson, John Carlson, and Jakub Vrana. It might not be coincidence that these three
players were the goal scorers for the week on the man advantage. The odd part of the outcome was the week for
Alex Ovechkin. Despite playing 9:33 of
the 11:34 of power play time for the week, Ovechkin managed only one power play
shot on goal. He has now gone seven
games without a power play goal and, with just four power play goals on the
season, is on a pace to finish with 13 man advantage goals, which would be the
fewest he had in a regular season since he finished with 13 power play goals in
2011-2012, the last season he did not lead the league in power play goals
(including the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, when he had 16 in 48 games).
It might be important to keep in mind, too, that the Caps
built their power play success this week on a team with a poor penalty killing
record. They played the Buffalo Sabres
twice, a team that came into the week with the 29th-ranked penalty
kill in the league. The Caps were
3-for-6 against the Sabres, with eight shots on goal in 8:44 of power play ice
time. Against the Boston Bruins, the
third-ranked penalty kill when they took the ice against the Caps, Washington
was 0-for-2 and had just one shot on goal in 2:50 of ice time.
Penalty Killing: 9-for-11 / 80.0 percent (season: 82.4
percent; rank: 14th)
One area of concern in recent weeks has been the Caps’ propensity
to take penalties and face shorthanded situations. The Caps appeared to begin addressing that
problem in Week 8 with just five power plays allowed in two games. They permitted only three apiece to the
Sabres and Bruins in the first two games of Week 9. And when the Caps allowed the Sabres only two
power plays through 40 minutes in the third game of the week, it looked as if
it would be another stingy week.
However, Washington committed three minor penalties in the space of 8:37
of the third period while holding a 2-0 lead.
It could have been a disaster.
The Caps killed off the first two of the ensuing shorthanded situations,
but they yielded a Kyle Okposo power play goal on the third to allow the Sabres
back into the game.
The five power plays the Caps allowed to the Sabres made it
11 for the week, and with them was a lot of shorthanded ice time recorded. But even with that, there was a certain efficiency
in the penalty killing. Washington
allowed opponents 14 shots on goal in 11 power plays covering 20:34 of ice
time. Even the Okposo power play goal in
the third of three straight Sabre power plays came with just 24 seconds left on
the Buffalo man advantage. And there is
another curious shot statistic coming out of the week in penalty killing. The Caps had five shorthanded shots on goal
in 15:36 of shorthanded ice time against the Sabres for the week (Buffalo had
ten shots on goal in that same span of time).
Faceoffs: 84-for-167 / 50.3 percent (season: 51.1% / rank: 10th)
A week that might be described as uninteresting in the
circle was anything but. First, the 50.3
percent overall mark masks the fact that the Caps lost the offensive (47.2
percent) and defensive (48.1 percent) zones for the week. Then there was the usual (Jay Beagle finished
with a 65.2 percent win mark) and the unusual (Evgeny Kuznetsov finished the
week 51.2 percent to the good). And then
there was the odd outcome in the second game against the Sabres to close the
week. Perhaps it was a specific attempt
to protect a player, and perhaps it was just circumstance, but Beagle took 20
draws against the Sabres overall (going an amazing 16-for-20). Of those 20 faceoffs, 15 were taken in the
defensive zone (he won 13). On the other
hand, Kuznetsov took 12 total draws in that game but none of them in the
defensive zone. Beagle and Kuznetsov
were the only Caps taking at least ten faceoffs for the week to win more than
half of them.
Goals by Period:
The Caps won the week in every period, including overtime,
in which they scored two game-winners. This
is a hopeful sign in two respects, both with respect to goals allowed. First, the Caps allowed just one first period
goal for the week. With it, the Caps
became the last team in the league to allow a tenth first period goal this
season, and they finished the week with the fewest such goals in the league. Second, the Caps allowed just two third
period goals. That does not sound quite
as impressive, but the Caps have been a middle-of-the-road performer in this
regard for much of the season. A third
period power play goal allowed to Boston did cost the Caps a victory in
regulation time (they won in overtime), and they did allow 31 shots on goal in
the third period over the three games, but their third period performance did
evidence a bit of a tightening up.
In the end…
A 3-0-0 week is not to be sneered at, but neither should it
be revered as a return to dominance by the Caps. Twice they beat a young, struggling team, and they took
advantage of a goalie against whom they have had unusual success (Boston’s
Tuukka Rask gave up four goals on 20 shots and finished the week with a record
against the Caps of 1-8-5, 3.00, .894, with one shutout). On the other hand, one could say the Caps
ground out six very important standings points, given that the teams ahead of
them in the Metropolitan Division standings went a combined 11-1-0 for the
week. The 3-0-0 record meant only that
the Caps were able to tread water in the standings, but they do have at least
two games in hand on three of the four teams ahead of them (Columbus has played in the same number of games – 26). The trick is to make those games in hand
count, and with a four-game week coming up in Week 10 (including a back-to-back
to close it), that is the next task on the to-do list.
- First Star: Marcus Johansson (3-2-5, plus-2, game-winning/OT
goal, points in all three games)
- Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-4-4, plus-1, points in all
three games, 51.2 faceoff winning percentage, six shots on goal)
- Third Star: Jakub Vrana (first NHL goal, a game-winner, five
shots on goal, two hits, a blocked shot in 11 minutes per game)